Accepted Papers:

Women's conferences in computer science: separating the advocates from the advocated for  


Elizabeth Patitsas (McGill University)

Paper Short Abstract:

Since the 1990s, female computer scientists have been organizing conferences specifically for women in the field. I present an autoethnography of such a conference, discussing the structural factors at the conference which undermined the goal of improved female representation in computing.

Paper long abstract:

Since the 1990s, a great deal of effort has been put into improving the representation of women in computer science, yet the percentage of women in the field continues to decline from the 25% in the 1990s to the 15% today. To help reverse the trend, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was launched in 1994 and has since spawned many other "celebrations" of women and racial minorities internationally. In my paper I will present an autoethnography of attending one such a celebration.

My autoethnography provides a follow up to Sturman's institutional ethnography conducted of the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration. Sturman made several observations about how these celebrations are problematic for gender equality, such as how they separate women's issues from mainstream CS venues to specialized conferences, present a hyper-feminized essentialist discourse of what it means to be a "woman in computing", and commodify female students to the tech companies who recruit at these events.

I not only found those observations were still true today, but also observed a structural disconnect between the faculty at the conference and the students. The faculty, organizing the conference with the goal of promoting gender equality for the students, attended separate sessions on advocacy and clustered together socially. The students, however, attended what amounted to a job fair, with no sense of being part of a gender equity project. I discuss the implications of this bifurcation, and how the structuring of these celebrations affects gender equity work in computer science.

Panel C02
A panel on panels: studying academic conference practice